MACHAKOS, Kenya, Mar 7- Gor Mahia will be left ruing their missed chances especially in the first half after being held to a 0-0 draw by Tunisian giants Esperance in a first round CAF Champions League first leg tie at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on Wednesday.
The record 16-time Kenyan Premier League champions, beaten 3-2 at home by the same opponents four years ago had an opportunity to finish the first leg with a handsome score-line, but their scoring let them down on an afternoon they should have had more than three goals.
Positive for them though is that they didn’t concede an away goal and will be heading to Tunis for the return tie in 10 days time with the hope that they can match the reigning Tunisian champions and come up with a result that can sail them into the group stages of continental football.
Esperance goalkeeper Noel Ben Sherifia had twice produced brilliant saves to ensure his side remained in the game, while also playing his fair share of time wasting antics, slowing down the pace of the game.
Without a natural right-back as both Wellington Ochieng and Karim Nizigiyimana are out injured, Gor head coach Dylan Kerr took the gamble of pulling wide a central defender, putting Joachim Oluoch in the position.
The lanky defender played his part brilliantly to ensure the speedy Esperance wingers do not find space to move.
It was the visitors who were the first to produce a goal scoring chance, Youssef Blaili finding some shooting space from 30 yards out but the ball rolled wide.
As the game built up, Gor grew in confidence and started passing the ball around with ease. They had the first effort at goal in the ninth minute when Meddie Kagere rose up to meet an Oluoch cross from the right, but he couldn’t get a powerful impact, the ball going over.
The home side came ever so close in the 16th minute when Jacques Tuyisenge was sent through by a brilliant Francis Kahata pass but his powerful shot from the right thundered under the upright.
Seven minutes later, Sherifia pulled a brilliant save when he reacted fast to punch away a shot from Kagere from the edge of the six yard box after the forward was set up by George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo.
A minute later, Sherifia once again produced a one of a kind save, diving swiftly to his right to make a one-handed save off a beautiful glancing header from Tuyisenge who met a Philemon Otieno cross.
Gaining confidence that they could actually open up the Tunisians, Gor played more attacking football and in the 27th minute had another chance when Kagere was sent through on the left by Odhiambo, powered into the box but his eventual shot went wide.
The Tunisians fell behind in defense as they attempted to soak in the pressure and Gor had another superb opportunity in the 37th minute when Joash Onyango’s powerful header from the right across went inches wide from a Kahata corner.
Esperance came a more attacking side in the second half and made changes to that effect, Blaili coming off for Anis Ben Hijra while Yasinne Khenissi was hauled off injured for striker Bilel Nestri.
The visitors were more industrious going forward and they were almost gifted on the hour mark when lack of communication between Boniface Oluoch and Shakava saw Haythen Jovini find some space to throw in a boot, but lucky for them the ball rolled out.
Jovini was then brought off for Maher Ben Shaieri as he seemed to have tired off, the Esperance coach going for the kill with a fully attacking squad.
As Esperance piled bodies forward, Gor found a chance on the break and Godfrey Walusimbi tried his luck with a shot from distance but it sailed wide.
Kerr made changes bringing off Kahata for Kevin Omondi, Philemon Otieno off for Bernard Ondiek while Samuel Onyango came on for Odhiambo.
However, they still couldn’t get a goal to quench their thirst, Kagere once again seeing his point blank effort cleared off the line by the Esperance defense.